Boys Choir of Harlem hopes for comeback

Members of the Boys Choir of Harlem sing

Members of the Boys Choir of Harlem sing during the Lord & Taylor Christmas window unveiling in Manhattan. (Nov. 15, 2005) (Credit: Getty Images)

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The Boys Choir of Harlem, which shut down in 2009, is hoping to begin a comeback training program in January.

The choir, which ended after an employee was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student and because of financial debt, is looking for as many as 50 singers and will next have auditions Dec. 12, its leaders said. Open auditions for the renowned ensemble have netted 12 recruits so far.

The founder's brother Horace Turnbull and choir alum Roger Holland have vowed to restore the choir's legacy, which had inspired thousands of boys and girls since 1968.

"It's going slower than we expected but the word is getting out there and we are getting a slew of calls," Turnbull said. The choir's website will announce the location of the next auditions, he added.

"We have to bring back the legacy my brother built, worked for and died for," said Turnbull, whose brother Walter Turnbull died in 2007.

Turnbull said the choir's foundation will set new policies aimed at restoring credibility, requiring that staff members report abuse complaints to the city's Office of Children and Family Services.

Turnbull, who is president and chief executive of the Walter J. Turnbull Music Foundation, said that for the past several years, he and his supporters have sought donations to help fund a new choir after-school program that will offer classical vocal instruction, academic tutors and counseling.

"This is a program about providing a musical oasis for our students but also the development of the whole person -- emotionally and educationally," said Holland, who will be the choir's artistic director.

"It's a wonderful opportunity -- this is the resurrection of our choir," said Holland, who joined the choir when he was 16 and later graduated from the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.

Walter Turnbull, a tenor with the New York Philharmonic, founded the choir in 1968 in a Harlem church basement. The choir gave inner-city boys -- and later girls -- an opportunity to learn music through singing. It grew into a 600-student school before it was forced to shut down by the city's Department of Education.

Over its 40-year history, the choir gained prominence by singing at the White House and for Pope John II, and selling albums.

Rhonda Charles-Hypolite, of Westchester, whose son Jamel, 15, auditioned for the choir, said "everybody deserves a second chance. My son is very interested in singing but he is shy. I am hoping that being in the choir will bring out his talent."

Tyler Greer, 15, of the Bronx, also auditioned. His mother, Vivia Van Dale, said that despite the controversy, the choir's reputation lives on. "When Tyler's music teacher recommended he audition, I saw it as a real opportunity."

"Singing enlivens me," Tyler Greer said.

"Tyler has developed such a beautiful baritone range and singing in the choir would be a great opportunity," his mother said.

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